I’ve had a checkered past with Yoshi games. The first game he starred in, Super Mario World, was nothing short of amazing. Many people I know consider it the best Mario game ever made (I’d argue Super Mario Bros. 3, but that’s a whole other conversation). His next appearance was the self-titled game, Yoshi, for the NES. This puzzle game failed to capture any excitement from me, and indeed, many off-shoot games would come throughout the years: Yoshi’s Cookie (NES, SNES, Game Boy), Yoshi’s Safari (SNES), and Yoshi Touch & Go (DS). I didn’t particularly enjoy any of them.
Returning to his platformer roots, Yoshi’s Island on the SNES was truly a sight to behold. From the unique color penciled backgrounds and animation to the fun exploration mechanics never before seen in many 2D games at that point, Yoshi’s Island was a fresh take on the genre. Sure, the crying baby Mario got old after awhile, but the sheer variety in level design and crazy ideas throughout made this a truly memorable game.
Perhaps that’s why all of the so-called follow-ups have failed to eclipse, let alone match the success of Yoshi’s Island. It’s not like Nintendo didn’t try new things. Yoshi’s Story for the N64 had a strange level progression system, ditched the charming graphics of the original for pre-rendered backdrops (ironic considering Yoshi’s Island was specifically designed to look very different from the then-popular Donkey Kong Country series, which was famous for its pre-rendered backdrops), and had one of the most annoying soundtracks ever. Yoshi Topsy-Turvy on the GBA attempted to incorporate gyro controls and failed miserably. Yoshi’s Island DS messed with the idea of different babies riding on Yoshi to give unique powers, but the levels were uninspired and the game’s difficulty was all over the place. Yoshi’s New Island was a competent side-scroller with some nice 3D effects and was the closest to a true sequel to Yoshi’s Island, but still lacked that special magic that was found in the original.
Like I mentioned, I’ve had a rocky relationship with the Yoshi games. I only really liked Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island. The rest could have just as well not released. So, imagine my skepticism when yet another Yoshi game was announced. I admit I was immediately more interested in Woolly World than any of the other recent releases because it was utilizing the yarn graphics seen in Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Wii), a game that I personally loved for its creative use of fabrics and level design. It appeared that Woolly World take that concept and raise the bar. I’m happy to report, that indeed it has.
I knew from seeing screenshots and watching preview videos that this game was shaping up to look gorgeous. It wasn’t until I played it on my own TV that all of the small details and intricacies were noticeable. This game exudes charm and looks amazing in HD. The level construction is a work of art, with strands of yarn hanging off of backgrounds, flowers and scenery in the foreground are slightly blurred giving off a depth of field effect, and even the clouds hang in the background with small strings. Yoshi and all of the enemies are adorable and look like small plush toys that could hop out of the screen at any moment and would totally be right at home in any toy box. The authentic look of the levels really sells the experience. I love how the weight of Yoshi and his enemies cause the fabric ground to bow a little bit as they traverse it. All of the animations are spot-on. For example, if Yoshi pushes up against a wall it will slightly indent and Yoshi will slightly compress and it fortifies the illusion that this is a living, breathing universe. The way objects and enemies can unravel by tugging on them looks fantastic. Little details are all over the place. I especially like how Yoshi’s feet turn into wheels when he gets up enough speed, and how they turn into a propeller when he flutter jumps. The graphics are so robust and colorful that it’s impossible for me to play this game and not have a smile on my face. It’s a breathtaking game that shows off what the Wii U can do when skilled graphic designers open up their imaginations. Every person that I’ve shown this game to marvels at the graphics, which isn’t something that can be said for many games on the system.
The game mechanics will be familiar to anyone who has played the Yoshi’s Island series of games. Yoshi can grab enemies with his tongue and either spit them back out as an attack or swallow them to create a yarn ball. He can carry up to six yarn balls behind him at any given time, and those can be thrown via a targeting reticule that will move in a 90-degree angle back and forth. Certain enemies, like Piranha Plants, can be tied up with a yarn ball, allowing Yoshi to jump on them to defeat them. Like previous games, question mark clouds are scattered throughout the levels. Some are visible, but many will need to be found by jumping around empty spaces to discover them. Once found, shooting a yarn ball at one will result in a reward, like beads, hearts, or flowers. Many of the levels have wireframe objects that can be formed into fabric items by throwing a yarn ball at them. This can create new platforms for Yoshi to reach unexplored regions and discover new secrets.
As mentioned above, there are plenty of collectibles scattered throughout the stages. Players familiar with the series will be accustomed to trying to find all of the smiley flowers in each level, of which there are five. In addition, there are five Wonder Wools per course to find. If successful, you will assemble a new patterned Yoshi that you can then use instead of the standard green colored one. Hearts will also fly out of certain hidden areas and also when you near the midpoint of a level. These will go toward filling up Yoshi’s health, and the game keeps track if you finish the area with full hearts or not.
Collecting beads serves two purposes. First, you can earn up to 20 stamp icons per level by finding the majority of the beads. After finding a set number of icons you will be awarded with a collection of stamps to use in your Miiverse posts. Beads can also be used prior to starting a new level by purchasing special patches. These can give Yoshi special powers, like unlimited watermelon seeds, or the ability to avoid death when falling in a pit. At the end of each level you are shown how many items you managed to collect. Perfectionists will want to replay levels where something was missed. The nice thing is that the game does show you the flowers and Wonder Wools you collected in order, so if you missed the first one out of five you’ll know it is located near the beginning of the stage.
One of the more memorable aspects of the original Yoshi’s Island was being able to transform Yoshi into different vehicles. This idea returns here. One of my favorites is the motorcycle Yoshi, which turns the game into a fast-paced race to the finish while trying to collect everything before the timer runs out. I’m always excited to play these sections, as they are always fresh and exciting.
Like many games released in the past year, Yoshi’s Woolly World has amiibo functionality. Tap any of the existing figures to the GamePad and you will be able to change Yoshi’s pattern to resemble that character. Want to play as Samus Yoshi? Now you can. The changes are cosmetic and don’t offer any new powers or moves. If you pick up a Yarn Yoshi amiibo, you can have another Yoshi tag along to help you out, similar in some regards to Ninja Gaiden II’s shadow Ryu fighters (how’s that for a classic reference?) or the double cherry power-up from Super Mario 3D World. If you’d rather have a real life second person playing alongside you, simply grab another controller (Wii Remote, Classic Controller, and Wii U Pro Pad are all supported), no amiibo required.
So, how difficult is Woolly World? One of the main complaints leveled at Kirby’s Epic Yarn was that you couldn’t die and there really wasn’t much of a challenge. I’ve always maintained that the difficulty of that game was found by trying to collect everything and make it to the end of each level without losing any of it, similar to a Sonic the Hedgehog game. This time around the challenge has been ramped up a bit. Yoshi has a health meter and if all of his hearts disappear he will lose a life. Ditto if he falls down a pit. Adding a second player to the mix is both a blessing and a curse. It makes the game more difficult because the players can unintentionally (or on purpose) screw up the other’s game by eating them and then shooting them out into a hazard. It’s also helpful to have a second player because the level continues on if one person perishes, instead of having to start over. If you have younger children playing, or just find a level too frustrating, there is a Mellow Mode that allows Yoshi to fly through the level to make it passable.
I’ve gushed about the amazing graphics already, but how is Woolly World’s music? In a word: sublime. It’s seriously so good and instantly catchy that I may have to buy the soundtrack. It reminds me of a cross between Little Big Planet and Kirby’s Epic Yarn, but it’s entirely it’s own creation. Many of the tracks remind of a laid-back summer day lounging out in the sun. It’s so mellow and perfect for the graphic style and appropriately sets the tone for the stages. Plus, there are so many musical tracks that I’m extremely impressed. Most action-platform games like Mario have two themes for outside stages, maybe one for underground, and one for a castle and one for a ghost house. This game has multiple music selections for the stages and is much more varied. In fact, looking at the soundtrack, you’ll have heard about 22 tracks before you even reach World 2.
Yoshi’s Woolly World is one of my favorite Yoshi games, probably coming in just a hair behind the first Yoshi’s Island. The sheer amount of ingenuity shown in the course design, the spectacular graphics, and the unique and serene soundtrack all combine to create a truly memorable and exciting experience that shouldn’t be missed. The only thing that could probably be improved upon is the game’s controls. They aren’t bad, but a few times throughout the game I felt some of the mechanics were a bit cumbersome. The yarn-throwing mechanic seems a bit archaic in this day and age and there’s a few times where Yoshi would flutter jump when I just wanted him to bounce on an enemy. Some may prefer the gyro of the Wii Remote to toss the yarn balls. Also, when playing with a second player, it can also become tedious because it’s way too easy to accidentally eat the other player. This is particularly annoying because the player that was eaten loses all of the yarn balls that had been accumulated. It’s nothing too major, but the controls could have been just a tad tighter. If, like me, you’ve had a bumpy road over the years with Yoshi games, don’t hesitate to purchase this one. There’s plenty here for everyone to enjoy. In fact, it’s my favorite 2D platformer so far this year.